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    Who is man?

    Psalm 8:5 asks a blunt question that is echoed in the Yom Kippur prayers: “Lord, what is man that You are mindful of him, the son of man that You think of him?”

    If we were directing the question to Jean Paul Sartre, he might say, “Man is the incommensurable idiot of the universe!” Bertrand Russell would tell us, “Man with his knowledge of good and evil is just a helpless atom!” HL Mencken would say, “Man is a sick fly, taking a dizzy ride on a gigantic fly-wheel!”

    If these answers are true, one thing is patently clear: Man is wasting his time.

    Albert Einstein was candid: “The man who regards life as meaningless is not merely unfortunate but almost disqualified for life.”

    Why does the world need man, why should he survive, why indeed should he ever have existed at all?

    There is a Talmudic discussion (Eruvin 13b) about the question, “Was there any point in God creating man?” The answer is rather sad: “It would have been better if man had not been created… but since he has been created, let him exercise control over his deeds.”

    A far more positive view comes from Rabbi Elazar ben Pedat: “Let men ever bear in mind that the Holy One dwells in him” (Ta’anit 11b). Man has God’s image imprinted on his face, deep down in his being. That is what Psalm 8 tells us. What is man? “Man is a Divine Creation just below the angels!”

    To be an angel is a burden. To be a human being whose rank is just below the angels is to be more rational than an idiot, more powerful than a lost atom, more purposeful than a dizzy fly. It is to say with Pir’kei Avot 2:1, “The day is short, the work is great, the Master is demanding: it is not your task to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it”.

    What is the task? To be a Mensch. The spirit of God within us calls us to emulate the Almighty. As He is wise and compassionate, so should we be. As He loves and forgives, so should we.

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